We have been tracking this game for a while now. From the trailers and game play videos we looked at before the game was released, it promised to be a different and innovative idea for a first person adventure game. The game released on consoles before it did for Windows, and we could not wait to get our hands on it. Those of us who did try out the game on consoles were enthralled.
When you start the game, the first level is a tutorial that outlines the gamut of moves that your player can perform. Look down, and you see the torso and limbs of your player, something unique for the first person point-of-view games, which usually contain phantom bodies and legs. Unlike other games, the tutorial is a very necessary step in playing the game. The first level takes your breath away. You are made to jump over fences, slide beneath pipes, jump across large gaps, roll when you fall and learn to take away weapons from enemies you might encounter. A whole range of acrobatic actions can be performed through minimal keys.
To even begin talking about the very impressive gameplay, you have to talk about the not-so-interesting story. You are what the game calls a “runner”. A runner is a messenger that takes dangerous paths across the city to deliver messages. This is because the world (or at least this city) is under a totalitarian regime, where the government has put all forms of communication under strict surveillance. This serves to neutralize crime and rebels. This is where the runners come in, with their alternate medium of communication. The second introductory level fleshes out the story for the player and you see your character’s (Faith) sister (some police officer) getting framed for murder. She barely has time to talk to you, when the police burst in with guns a-blazing. Fight is not a choice here, you are a runner, and you can only run. So run you do, through a complicated office floor, into the vents, onto a terrace, sliding down a ramp, and so on — escaping bullets, instead of killing the attackers with your own. It’s a refreshing take on the plat forming genre. Your path forward is made known through what is called “runner vision”, which turns objects of interest in the environment red, indicating that you need to make your way towards them. At the end of the first level, you find yourself on a terrace. Just as a helicopter comes into view, its landing skids blazing red with runner vision. The police are firing at you, and you hardly have time to think. And like some cornered animal, you instantly jump to hold on to the skids of the helicopter. Impressive stuff, this.
There are spectacular props in almost every level of the game. Over the next few levels, you will dodge bullets in sewers, jump between pipes, climb on crates and cranes, learn that some fences are electrified, navigate through vents, spend some time in elevators, and even take on a few enemies by neutralizing them with your movements. The gamers have taken the pains to make the experience very immersive. Not only is your entire body visible, there are a lot of small touches. Your heartbeat increases when the game picks up speed. The movement of the camera is tracked to the movement of your head. You can fail spectacularly, or slip and fall. You can feel your weight, and the momentum, just by looking at the way the camera moves on screen. When you see men with guns, you run. Some of them are marked in red, so you can knock them out and use their weapons. More often than not, you will not carry the weapons as they slow you down. When you slip, fall and die, the screen shakes, goes black and white for just a second, and then blanks out. Some primal trigger in your brain makes you anticipate your death, seconds before it happens, and we wonder what kind of research the developers did to come up with this stuff. When you have to roll after a long jump, you can see your body rolling, and for a second you are actually disoriented and confused. When you fall and get hurt, you actually freeze for a second — just enough to recover, and just enough to make you appreciate how real the game feels.
The story makes you follow a trail of contacts, betrayers, and bodies inching onwards to answer questions you didn’t know you had. So when someone on screen starts running away from you, using the same techniques you do, follow them with all your heart. But when animated cut-scenes reveals scene-after-scene of needless complications and conditions, you don’t have the heart to take it all in, and find it a serious distraction from the game itself. Despite the very pretty vector animation, we could not resist the urge to skip the cut-scenes and return to the meat of the game.
There are moments of very intense action in the game. Snipers, for example, have these shafts of red light directed towards you, and you have to neutralize them before they find you. You are looking through the scope at two snipers, who in turn are looking through their scope, at you. You have to take them out before their laser sights seek you out. Another aspect are the spatial puzzles in the game. You will be forced to think out of the box, look around and really think before you can progress through a level. This aspect of the game reminds us of Portal.
Successive levels of the game make you move in increasingly complicated and innovative ways. The levels also become tougher, with the jumps getting wider, or higher. Timing and precision are required here. You have to be very careful about when and how you use your moves. Sometimes it is preferable to fall and get hurt, because rolling might make you fall to death. It makes you feel as if the skills of your character are developing as you play the game.
However, one disappointing aspect is that you never really find out all the ways to neutralize the enemy. The demos shown during game load depict complicated maneuvers, all of which you don’t end up trying out because there is just not enough opportunity for it — or so you think. During the later levels, however, the game gets boring. The focus shifts to neutralizing enemies, and an unrealistic number of them, at that. Repeated restarts to get the jump roll and wall run right will keep you focused, but repeated restarts just to get away from a gunman you are not allowed to neutralize makes for an irritating experience. At the rare instance that you need to use the gun, you have to be dead accurate because the guns usually have very little ammo. But since gun-combat is rare, you find that you don’t have enough practice to get it right and you’ll often need to repeat such sections. At this point, the bugs also get to you — jump onto a ledge with your hands on either side of piping, and you cannot move left or right. You cannot even jump off, or climb up. You get stuck for no fault of your own. Sometimes, your feet get stuck inside the floor, disabling any kind of movement.
The graphics are great. The environment has a cyberpunk feel, with bright, vibrant and effervescent colors used. The entire city feels like it’s bathed in light, even the sewers have a halo. This is a very good looking game. The soundtrack is mostly ambient loops, with the tone changing with the mood and pace of a level. It lends a sense of urgency when you have to move fast, and encourages logic when you need to solve a spatial puzzle. This is a great game, and something that will go down in gaming history as something truly special — as Portal did before. However, the game play is far from mature, and we just hope to see more such titles around. At least, a lot of first person games can take cues from the creativity that flows through this game.
Platforms supported: X-box 360, Microsoft Windows, Sony Play Station 3
Web site: www.mirrorsedge.com